OUR COMMON GROUND with Janice Graham
“In Conversation with Bruce A. Dixon”
Co-Founder and Managing Editor, The Black Agenda Report Chair, GA Green Party
November 19, 2016 <> LIVE <> 10 pm ET
Listen & Call In Line: 347-838-9852
Listen LIVE/Enjoy our LIVE Chat room: http://bit.ly/OCGDixon
BAR Managing Editor Bruce A. Dixon
“President Donald Trump? How did such a thing happen? A competent and purposeful Clinton campaign should have beaten Donald Trump. How did Hillary Clinton and one-percenter Democrats snatch defeat from the jaws of certain victory?” MORE
Bruce Dixon is the GA State Chairman of the Green Party, Co-Founder and Managing Editor of The Black Agenda Report and journalist. Bruce was a rank and file member of the Illinois Chapter of the BPP in 1969 and 1970. He has long been considered a voice of wisdom an encouragement in the Black left, progressive left movement in this country since the 1960s. Tonight we talk with him about the State and Future of Black America.
BROADCASTING BOLD BRAVE & BLACK
by Lindsey E. Jones
Recent scholarship in the history of black women and the carceral state illustrates the extent to which systems of criminal justice and law enforcement have both historically failed to protect black female victims of domestic violence and criminalized black women who rise up in their own defense.
Black Girls, Domestic Violence, and the Limits of Self-Defense
by Lindsey E. Jones
This article previously appeared in the blog of the African American Intellectual History Society.
“Legal systems in this country explicitly and implicitly render black women defenseless against intra- and interracial violence.”
The case of Bresha Meadows, an African American teenage girl in Ohio, is a sad commentary on the failure of the state to protect victims of domestic violence. After a lifetime of watching him physically and psychologically abuse her mother—and of being subjected to threats and verbal abuse, along with her siblings—Bresha allegedly shot her father to death while he slept on July 28, 2016. While her mother’s family and her attorney consider her actions to have been in self-defense, the county prosecutor has charged Bresha with aggravated murder. It remains to be seen whether she will be tried as a juvenile or as an adult. At stake is the possibility that Bresha, who marked her fifteenth birthday in juvenile hall just weeks after her arrest, could spend the rest of her life in prison if convicted as an adult.
While the case is making its way through the courts and the families of Brandi Meadows (Bresha’s mother) and Jonathan Meadows (Bresha’s deceased father) share conflicting stories with news media about the latter’s personality and propensity toward violence, as well as their conflicting opinions about premeditation versus self-defense, it is important to note that this case is neither isolated nor entirely new. Recent scholarship in the history of black women and the carceral state illustrates the extent to which systems of criminal justice and law enforcement have both historically failed to protect black female victims of domestic violence and criminalized black women who rise up in their own defense.
“Survivors of intimate partner violence dramatically overrepresented among incarcerated black women.”
Historian Kali Gross, in providing historical context to the case of Marissa Alexander, argues that the state’s willingness to condemn this woman for defending herself against an abusive husband points back through centuries of American history to “the legacies of an exclusionary politics of protection whereby black women were not entitled to the law’s protection, though they could not escape its punishment.” Gross traces the ways in which “racialized, gendered notions of protection” have, from the seventeenth century on, shaped legal systems in this country that explicitly and implicitly render black women defenseless against intra- and interracial violence. She argues that this exclusionary politics of protection fuels the current mass incarceration crisis, with survivors of intimate partner violence dramatically overrepresented among incarcerated black women.1
Bresha Meadows’s case exemplifies Gross’s concept of the exclusionary politics of protection. This past May, Bresha ran away from home to the home of an aunt, Martina Latessa. Latessa, a police officer working in a domestic violence unit in Cleveland, was forced to return Bresha to her father, who had reported the girl as having been kidnapped by her aunt. Latessa reported her brother-in-law to Family Services, which resulted in an agent interviewing Brandi Meadows about the allegations of abuse—as Jonathan Meadows sat beside her. Neither law enforcement nor the state bureaucracy could protect Brandi Meadows and her children from this abuse, which she and her family assert intensified after this incident. As a result of the state’s failure to end the cycle of trauma in her family, Bresha Meadows took matters into her own hands—and was charged with aggravated murder, for which she could potentially spend the rest of her life in prison.
Gross’s essay compellingly reveals the intersections of race, gender, and class in black women’s hyper-vulnerability to domestic violence; state failure to prevent or put a stop to said violence; and the too-common outcome of black women being incarcerated for offenses resulting from attempting to defend themselves against domestic violence. However, as the case of Bresha Meadows illustrates, there is another vector of identity that often doesn’t appear in our historical analyses of black females and the carceral state: that is, age.2
“For black women in the Jim Crow South—as in antebellum times—domestic violence was constitutive of domestic labor.”
Where race, gender, and class have worked together to create the conditions discussed above, the erasure of age difference has historically created disadvantages for black girl victims of domestic violence. One prominent example recently provided by historian LaShawn Harris is that of Virginia Christian. Often referred to as the first woman to be executed by the Commonwealth of Virginia, Christian was in reality a seventeen-year-old girl when she was killed by electric chair in 1912—a fact that her advocates hoped would persuade the state to show her mercy.3
Virginia Christian belonged to a working-class black family in Hampton, Virginia, and needed to work in order to contribute to her household, including her disabled mother. From the age of thirteen, she served as a laundress for a middle-class white family named Belote in Hampton. During a dispute about missing jewelry that turned physical, Virginia killed the matriarch of the family—a crime she confessed to committing in self-defense. Harris argues that “Christian’s act of self-defense delineated working-class African American women’s impetuous ways of protecting their bodies and their often last attempts to seek and secure long-awaited personal justice—especially when legal protection seemed beyond their reach.” While there is no archival evidence that Ida Belote had laid hands upon Virginia Christian prior to this altercation, there is plenty of evidence to demonstrate that for black women in the Jim Crow South—as in antebellum times—domestic violence was constitutive of domestic labor, the racially prescribed set of occupations for black women and girls.4
Christian’s response was most immediately triggered by Belote’s accusations of theft and subsequent physical assault on March 18, 1912, but it is conceivable that she was also responding to other physical and psychological traumas accumulated over three years of working in the Belote household.
The analogy from Virginia Christian in 1912 to Bresha Meadows in 2016 is imperfect, but these cases both illustrate the extent to which the state has failed to consider age in evaluating black girls’ actions in self-defense from domestic violence. Sadly, over a century later, Bresha’s advocates find themselves making very similar demands of a system that hasn’t changed enough since Virginia’s trial, and employing very similar tactics in their pursuit of mercy for this abused adolescent girl.
“In the minds of whites, the accused, regardless of her age, was a deviant and vulgar black murderess that had to be punished for her crime.”
In the case of Virginia Christian, the Commonwealth of Virginia ignored evidence that Christian committed the crime at sixteen years of age in order to prevent her minority status from impeding its plan to execute her. Harris argues that, “in the minds of whites, the accused, regardless of her age, was a deviant and vulgar black murderess that had to be punished for her crime; essentially, Christians’ race trumped her gender and age. By denying Christian of her adolescent status, the State of Virginia sought to punish her to the full extent of the law.”5
Black and white Americans wrote letters and circulated petitions pleading with the Commonwealth to consider Christian’s youth as a factor in her crime and her punishment and to commute her sentence from execution to life in prison. In the end, neither Christian’s appeal to self-defense, nor her advocates’ appeal to adolescence, could spare her from the lethal retribution of the state.
In a throwback to the campaign to spare Virginia Christian’s life in 1912, advocates of Bresha Meadows are writing letters and circulating petitions in the hope that local prosecutors take into account her age and her status as a survivor of domestic violence as they proceed with charges against her. Because of the Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in Roper v. Simmons that it is unconstitutional to execute a person for a crime committed under eighteen years of age, the death penalty is not on the table for Bresha. However, because prosecutors could decide to try her in adult court, it is a real possibility that she could be sentenced to life in prison.
A century after Virginia Christian’s advocates passionately and strategically petitioned the Commonwealth of Virginia for life imprisonment, Bresha’s advocates argue that no adolescent should spend life in prison—especially not a girl pushed toward drastic action by a lifetime of trauma and abuse. There is thankfully still time for the prosecutors of Trumbull County to give real weight to Bresha Meadows’ traumatic life history, and to the fact that it spans fifteen short years, as they decide what action to pursue.
Lindsey E. Jones is a PhD Candidate in History of Education at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education and a 2016-2018 Pre-doctoral Fellow at the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies at the University of Virginia. Her dissertation project, “‘Not a Place of Punishment’: the Virginia Industrial School for Colored Girls, 1915-1940,” historicizes the education and incarceration of black girls by examining Virginia’s only reformatory for delinquent African American girls. Follow her on Twitter @noumenal_woman.
1. Kali N. Gross, “African American Women, Mass Incarceration, and the Politics of Protection,” Journal of American History 102, no.1 (2015), 25–33.
2. For a contemporary examination of black girls, interpersonal violence, and the carceral state, see Jody Miller, Getting Played: African American Girls, Urban Inequality, and Gendered Violence (New York: NYU Press, 2008).
3. Lashawn Harris, “The ‘Commonwealth of Virginia vs. Virginia Christian’: Southern Black Women, Crime & Punishment in Progressive Era Virginia,” Journal of Social History 47, no.4 (2014), 922–42.
4. See, for instance: Tera W. Hunter, To ’Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors after the Civil War (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997); Thavolia Glymph, Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003); Sarah Haley, “‘Like I Was a Man’: Chain Gangs, Gender, and the Domestic Carceral Sphere in Jim Crow Georgia,” Signs 39 (Autumn 2013).
5. Harris cites “a 1910 Virginia statue prohibiting death to ‘any child under seventeen years of age who is charged with any felony, and never having been heretofore convicted in any court of a misdemeanor’” (931).
“Black Lives Matter has cast a strobe-light on contemporary myths of racial progress, arguing correctly that the criminal justice system represents a gateway to a panoramic system of racial and class and gender and sexuality oppression.”
The Black Lives Matter policy agenda represents one of the most important agenda setting documents collectively produced by black activists in a generation. The proposals, authored by over fifty different civil rights organizations, offers a panoramic narrative, diagnosis, and political alternatives to the intricacies of structural racism, state-sanctioned violence, and the institutional exploitation of black bodies across the nation.
“A Vision For Black Lives” builds on, expands, and goes beyond policy agendas promoted by a range of civil rights and Black Power era groups, including the Black Panthers, Nation of Islam, NAACP, SNCC (the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee), CORE, Malcolm X’s Organization of Afro-American Unity, and Martin Luther King Jr’s SCLC. In its poignant urging of the United States to “end the war on black people,” the document is reminiscent of the “Gary Agenda,” the historic 1972 document that emanated from the National Black Political Convention in Gary, Indiana.
That meeting of over 8,000 black delegates from across black America’s political and ideological spectrum proved to be a watershed event, albeit one that was hamstrung by an inability to translate grassroots insurgency into tangible political power, accountability, and resources. Gary, like the Black Power Conferences from the late 1960s and the African Liberation Day and Sixth Pan-African Congress of the 1970s, sought to modernize the black convention movements that could be traced back to the Reconstruction era, where black activists organized for political power in slavery’s aftermath.
By the early 20th century efforts like the “Niagara Movement” faltered due to a lack of resources and political infighting. For a time, Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association cast a shadow large enough to encompass the complexity of black life, uniting economic strivers with revolutionary activists in developing a black agenda broad enough to attract millions of black people across several continents.
Garvey’s decline fractured aspects of black political life, but not dreams for a cohesive vision, plan, and strategy for black liberation, a cause taken up during the Depression and Second World War by a variety of groups including the Southern Negro Youth Congress, National Negro Labor Congress, The Nation of Islam, the Civil Rights Congress, and the Council of African Affairs. The NAACP’s membership reached almost a half-million by 1946, the closest it would ever come to mass membership in scale. Black political leaders pushed an agenda to the left of the New Deal creating space for the global popularity of Paul Robeson, the political resurrection of W.E.B. Du Bois, and the insider status of Mary McLeod Bethune and Ralph Bunche.
Organizers like Ella Baker in New York City and Septima Clarke in South Carolina, worked the lower frequencies of black life, working at the margins of the black quotidian: the ordinary black folk from New York to South Carolina whose dreams remained disarmingly pragmatic ones focused preserving hope and dignity.
The Black Lives Matter Movement is rooted in this wider Black Freedom Struggle, one whose two dominant branches are reflected in the Civil Rights and Black Power era. BLM activists’ successful adoption of non-violence is rooted in the civil rights era even as their unapologetic focus on structural racism, community control, and political self-determination reflects the Black Power era’s radical politics. Surprisingly, so does the movement’s focus on intersectionality. Popularly remembered as deeply masculinist, unapologetically sexist, and homophobic, the Black Power era proved to be more complicated than such simple generalizations indicate. Despite the movement’s many political and ideological blinders, black women, queer activists, and others on the margins of African American life consciously shaped an expansive Black Power politics.
The Third World Women’s Alliance articulated a vision of radical black feminism, socialism, and Black Power militancy that made it a visionary example of cutting edge social justice movements. The Combahee River Collective gave voice to radical black lesbian feminists whose politics went to the far left of the more mainstream National Black Feminist Organization. In many ways both of these organizations reflected the black radical feminist politics revealed in Toni Cade Bambara’s groundbreaking 1970 anthology, The Black Woman, an intellectual and political intervention that ushered in Black Women’s Studies and helped give attention to the works of Audre Lorde, Barbara Smith, Gloria Hull, and many others.
BLM activists have taken some of the best aspects of these two generations of the Black Radical Tradition and linked it with more recent efforts to promote reparations (especially by grassroots a organization like N’COBRA, although reparations go back to the formerly enslaved activist Callie House as the historian Mary Frances Berry teaches us); divestment from domestic and global racial exploitation which Jesse Jackson, especially in 1984, promoted as a hallmark of his presidential campaign; the pursuit of independent black political power that had been advocated in the post Gary era by a series of organizations including the National Black United Front, the National Black Independent Political Party, and the Black Radical Congress; the movement for economic justice that has been promoted by a spectrum of grassroots labor, community, church, and secular activists, including black nationalists in communities such as St. Petersburg, Florida, who famously booed candidate Obama in 2008 by chanting and holding signs, “What About the Black Community Obama?”
Black Lives Matter has cast a strobe-light on contemporary myths of racial progress, arguing correctly that the criminal justice system represents a gateway to a panoramic system of racial and class and gender and sexuality oppression. This intervention, while important, is incomplete without an acknowledgment of the way in which the rise of mass incarceration is connected to systems of racial segregation, voting rights denial, state-sanctioned violence and exploitation of black bodies, all while criminalizing and decimating the very communities that remain largely under assault even in the Age of Obama.
The Age of Ferguson, Baltimore, Milwaukee, Black Lives Matter has shattered conventional civil rights narratives, ones that begin with Rosa Parks, continue with King’s Dream, and sought to end with Barack Obama’s election. This version of history as a bedtime story, complete with heroic individual blacks, stalwart white allies, and the thanks of a grateful nation has only one glaring problem.
It’s a lie.
The Civil Rights era heroic period experienced pervasive anti-black violence that only increased during the Black Power era and its aftermath. What is now universally acknowledged as a moral and political good—complete with a multiracial cast of characters—was demonized in word and deed by the larger society, a denigration that became inscribed in a series of intricate anti-black legal, legislative, and policy challenges that have utterly decimated some of the gains of the era, especially for the black poor.
“A Movement For Black Lives” is essential precisely because it helps to expose what is at the root of our national amnesia regarding slavery and anti-black racism-white supremacy and its relationship to conceptions of citizenship, the rule of law, democracy, and justice. In its passionate repudiation of the political status quo and elevating the lives of the black community’s most vulnerable residents—the poor, young, elderly, trans, LGBT, mentally ill, incarcerated, ex-offenders—the BLM has produced a watershed document that once again illustrates why the black freedom struggle has always been on the cutting edge of movements for radical democracy: we have no choice.
Peniel Joseph is the Barbara Jordan Chair in Ethics and Political Values and director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and Professor of History at The University of Texas. He is the award-winning author of several books, including Waiting ‘Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America, Dark Days, Bright Nights: From Black Power to Barack Obama, and Stokely: A Life. Follow him on Twitter @PenielJoseph.
Photograph by Krassotkin (derivative), Gage Skidmore (Donald Trump), Gage Skidmore (Hillary Clinton), distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license.
The horror of a Clinton v. Trump election is making everybody who pays attention a little crazy. Not paying attention isn’t easy – not with everybody hooked into social (actually anti-social) media and with“ news” and commentary coming from every direction.The hypocrisy is breathtaking.In the midst of it all, the American propaganda system, the one that supposedly doesn’t exist, has gone berserk — targeting RT America (formerly Russia Today).
Anyone who relies on The New York Times or The Washington Post or NPR or, worse, CNN or MSNBC, to find out what’s shaking – or rather what the guardians of the status quo want people to think is shaking (and “fit to print”) — and who also has access to RT America on satellite TV or a handful of cable stations, or who goes to the trouble of watching it over the internet, will know what I mean.RT America is a better source for news and commentary than America’s finest by many orders of magnitude. It is less biased too.The Russian government funds it, but this doesn’t make its output propaganda – not unless anything funded by governments is propaganda by definition. RT America is more like the BBC or CBC than, say, Radio Free Europe.
en San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick brought light to the issue of police brutality by kneeling in protest during the national anthem, he also exposed the National Football League and America’s deep-rooted racial and economic offenses that have been brewing for decades.
Despite the thinly covered veil some in the media have conveyed about the struggles of black America, the looming issue is one that points to just how much this country has failed African-Americans.
The rise of the black male sports figure and his million-dollar contract produced a safe haven, where blacks found a sense of pride and hope. Somehow an alternate reality was created in which America found comfortability at the sight of jovial black men playing and loving the sport–all while cashing in the big checks. That imagery perpetuated the deceptive notion that far less black Americans were crippled under the historical weight of a country that had, over time, legally mandated so many financial obstacles in the way of their achievement.
As half of the 14 million black households in America see their median net worth hover around $1,700.00 when you deduct the family car and other consumer durables, the imagery we often see in sports and entertainment–black men living lavishly–has made black America’s struggles ever more difficult to see as the real economic story. Whether we look to mass incarceration, chronic unemployment, dismal college graduation rates, or any other social indicator, it’s clear that African-Americans, and in particular black men, are not getting their fair shot at the American Dream.
Since the early 1980s and the introduction of Reaganomics, the crack cocaine epidemic and a slew of racially-biased laws, African-American men have found themselves largely living life as the underclass. Yet it is behind the decadent veil of the NFL and other sports organizations that the false narrative that the struggle for socio-economic stability had somehow subsided has been projected.
Thankfully, there’s data that shows otherwise.
From the incarceration numbers that show black men are sent to prison at one of the highest rates the modern world has ever seen, to unemployment rates–which in some places like Milwaukee indicate working-age black men are unemployed at rates above 50 percent–the so-called American Dream has not been good to black men by any stretch of the imagination. But inside of the NFL we could always see the million-dollar black man (albeit while destroying their bodies), happy and loving the sport of football. With Kaepernick and other athletes finally speaking up for the disenfranchised Black men who are not in their unique positions, it’s clear that many athletes are finally feeling the racial implications and failures of free markets, and now they’re speaking up about it.
Kaepernick boycotting the national anthem and other football players putting their black fists in the air, are signs of not just of protest, but of disobedience. A confrontational bucking order of things and standing up to a set of rules that has allowed the NFL–and its white billionaire owners–to thrive.
The very ethos of the NFL is a selling of diversity, opportunity, and American unity. And it’s also one of control; a place where NFL commissioner Roger Goodell would heavily punish the Ray Rices or Adrian Petersons of the world if they stepped out of line. The recent events, however, are different and have left the NFL desperately grasping for any opportunity to save itself from a branding nightmare. According to Bleacher Report, NFL executives are going as far as labeling Kaepernick a traitor they want nowhere near their team–a feeling they say mirrors that of an estimated 90 percent of other executives.
In Kaepernick’s own words, these are not unifying times, and he does not intend to act as if these injustices don’t exist. He along with others brave enough to speak out can no longer stand by and act as if we all are united during the tune of the “Star-Spangled Banner.”
“I’ll continue to sit,” Kaepernick said of his protest. “I’m going to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me this is something that has to change and when there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent in this country–is representing the way that it’s supposed to–I’ll stand.”
Those are the words of a defiant black man, and not of a NFL quarterback who led his team to a Super Bowl appearance. Kaepernick has made it loud and clear that he is a black manfirst, and that no amount of money can silence him. Now his moment of awakening is starting to catch fire, and it’s sweeping across the NFL as other players join in.
Just recently former NFL player Shannon Sharpe speaking on Fox Sports’ “Undisputed” said, “People seem to think that they can tell, ‘Shannon it’s okay, look at you, look at some of the more prominent African Americans,’ … But no, we make up a small, small portion. We’re disproportionate. We’re not the norm in black society.”
For decades, so many framed their ideas of the state of Black America on the social status of a selected few black male athletes, broadcasted on television screens globally as the new American norm. Now those very black men are standing up and saying they don’t want to play the cover up game anymore. Maybe, just maybe it will lead us to a place where finally there are no games played at all.
Antonio Moore, an attorney based in Los Angeles, is one of the producers of the Emmy-nominated documentary Freeway: Crack in the System. He has contributed pieces to the Grio, Huffington Post, and Inequality.org on the topics of race, mass incarceration and economics. Follow him on YouTube Channel Tonetalks.
by Danny Haiphong
Airheaded commentators compare Beyonce’s media products and Kanye West’s off-hand quips to Muhammad Ali’s heroic political struggle and genuine sacrifice in the Sixties. That’s nonsense. “Beyonce can dress up in Black Panther dress and subsequently fail to use her platform to educate others about the Black Panther Party precisely because she is selling a product, not building a movement. The same goes for Kanye West and all corporate artists.”
Keep Muhammed Ali’s Legacy Away from Beyonce and Kanye West
by Danny Haiphong
“The article reduces the state repression of Ali received as a mere byproduct of his ‘political stance’ and proceeds to compare the treatment Ali received to the criticisms of Beyonce and Kanye West.”
A recent article in Medium took to task those who mourned the death of Muhammad Ali.
“Conservative America,” according to the author, tells figures like Beyonce and Kanye West to be quiet while it celebrates the life of the late world boxing champion and activist. Self-proclaimed “hipsters” and “culture critics,” however, often take the luxury of ignoring concrete analysis for the allure of identity political liberalism. What the author makes no mention of are the concrete differences between Muhammad Ali and celebrities of the Kanye West variety. To analyze these differences would force the author to examine the motion of history and political struggle beyond the liberal lens.
Identity political liberalism can be defined in the piece as such. Since Muhammad Ali is celebrated for his opposition to war and racism, one would be hypocritical to criticize Kanye West and Beyonce for their particular forms of opposition. The author clarifies this position, stating:
“Kanye West had the courage to call out The President of United States for ignoring the people of New Orleans. Beyonce had the courage to embrace a movement that has been criticized by the police and mainstream America. If you can’t stomach their political statements there is no way you can say you are a fan of Ali because no ‘entertainer’ of color has been more in your face about condemning America’s racist political crimes than Muhammad Ali.”
This argument commits a logical fallacy of significant consequence. The author equates Beyonce and West’s achievements on the political stage to Ali’s actions in the 1960s. This conclusion derives from a purely subjective position. While it is true that Kanye West and Beyonce have made political statements in the past, no analysis of the particular character of these statements is given. Such an examination reveals exactly what propels cultural figures into political action and what contradictions ultimately limit the usefulness of their political action.
“The author equates Beyonce and West’s achievements on the political stage to Ali’s actions in the 1960s.”
In the 1960s, a revolutionary upsurge emerged from the heroic Black freedom movement and the connections it made to the anti-imperialist struggle around the world. The brutality and exploitation inherent in white supremacy and segregation influenced organizational formations, like the Nation of Islam (NOI), to call for more radical alternatives to the non-violent resistance that characterized the Civil Rights Movement. Ali was influenced by the teachings of Malcolm X, who at that time was being trained to lead the NOI. The US war in Vietnam was nearly a decade old by the time Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali. Malcolm X and the NOI took a firm stance against the war in Vietnam. Eventually Malcolm X would take opposition to war a step further by arguing that Black Americans had more in common with the people of Vietnam than the US government.
It was the development of international solidarity in the Black liberation movement that compelled Muhammad Ali to make his famous declaration against the Vietnam War and travel to Cuba and Palestine. Revolutionaries such as Paul Robeson, Shirley Graham Du Bois, and WEB Du Bois in the first half of the 20th century paved a path for insurgent Black revolutionaries in the second to position the struggle for emancipation in the US alongside the global fight for self-determination and socialism. It was argued by organizations such as the Black Panther Party that Black liberation could not be achieved without a socialist arrangement of society on a worldwide scale. Muhammad Ali’s political life must be placed in this context. The article reduces the state repression of Ali received as a mere byproduct of his “political stance” and proceeds to compare the treatment Ali received to the criticisms of Beyonce and Kanye West. Yet what isn’t said in the article is how state repression of an entire movement helped produce the corporate artists that the author compares to Ali.
“Corporate subsidiaries such as Warner Music Group control the music and careers of signed artists and enforce the ideological regime of imperialism through the sale of their processed music.”
The US counterinsurgency war against the Black liberation movement was geared toward the complete and utter destruction of revolutionary possibilities in the US. This war included the creation of an entire intelligence program to undermine, at times with deadly results, theefforts of Black revolutionaries. It also included reforms in the fabric of US society. Starting in the late 1970s, the ruling class opened seats in local, state, and federal political office to a select few Black Americans. Increased access to political office for the Black elite, and helped isolate radical and revolutionary forces calling for social transformation. It is here that the Black misleadership class emerged. The creeping crisis of imperialism made the influence of this class all the more necessary as mass incarceration, surveillance, and unemployment would come to characterize Black life in the US from the 1980s onward.
Over the last three and a half decades, the world capitalist system has undergone a process of decay that has necessitated the monopolization of all sectors of US society. An increasingly disposable and criminalized Black labor force coincided with the consolidation of the corporate media. The consolidation of the corporate media included the monopolization of the music industry that created Kanye West and Beyonce. Today, six corporations own 90 percent of the media and the same is true about the record industry as a sub-sector. Corporate subsidiaries such as Warner Music Group control the music and careers of signed artists and enforce the ideological regime of imperialism through the sale of their processed music.
“Using Ali to defend Beyonce or Kanye West gives undue attention to those who don’t deserve it.”
This is why, despite all the praise she has received, Beyonce’s music is void of political content, and why she invests millions in sweatshop production. Corporate control over the music industry also explains why Kanye West has become such a twisted and maligned figure in public eye. Ultimately, Black labor is only useful when it degrades, dehumanizes, or sanitizes Black struggle and Black people. Beyonce can dress up in Black Panther dress and subsequently fail to use her platform to educate others about the Black Panther Party precisely because she is selling a product, not building a movement. The same goes for Kanye West and all corporate artists.
Mohammed Ali’s legacy must be kept away from the corporate gaze of the media. The ruling class has desperately sought to suppress the ideas of anti-imperialism and Black liberation ever since the movement that brought Ali’s politics to life was brutally repressed isolated. If these politics are going to be revived and applied in the 21st century, it certainly won’t be any of the corporate music industry’s “artists” that lead the way forward. Using Ali to defend Beyonce or Kanye West is not only fruitless, but also potentially dangerous. It gives undue attention to those who don’t deserve it. Instead of hiding behind “conservative America” in liberal fashion as identity political liberalism often does, the focus for a true movement for social transformation must be on uniting revolutionary ideology and practice among the exploited and oppressed. Only the grave diggers of the world capitalist system can force the celebrities of today to either help build a new world or be swept away with the old.